Interview with Mesbah Rabin

Mesbah Rabin
Mesbah Rabin
Managing Director
Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, Dhaka
Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, Dhaka

We have seen significant progress in improving factory safety over the past year.
Mesbah Rabin discusses the current scenario of the Bangladesh ready-made garment industry in terms of compliance and worker rights with Mary Christine Joy. Synopsis: The Bangladesh Worker Safety Alliance is the result of an initiative by a few North American retailers and manufacturers in order to create a safe working environment for the ready-made garment workers of Bangladesh. It is a five year undertaking. Mr. Mesbah Rabin is the Managing Director of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Based in Dhaka, Mr. Rabin leads the Alliance efforts in Bangladesh to inspect, train and remediate more than 600 factories producing garments for Alliance members. Excerpts:

How many textile and apparel giants form a part of the Bangladesh worker safety alliance? Can you name them?

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance) is made up of 26 major apparel companies and retailers-most of which are North American. It includes the following brands: Ariela and Associates International LLC; Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter's Inc.; The Children's Place Retail Stores Inc.; Costco Wholesale Corporation; Fruit of the Loom Inc.; Gap Inc.; Giant Tiger; Hudson's Bay Company; IFG Corp.; Intradeco Apparel; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; The Jones Group Inc.; Jordache Enterprises Inc.; The Just Group; Kohl's Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; M. Hidary & Company Inc.; Macy's; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; and YM Inc. Supporting associations include: American Apparel & Footwear Association, BRAC, Canadian Apparel Federation, National Retail Federation, Retail Council of Canada, Retail Industry Leaders Association, and United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. In addition, Li & Fung, a major Hong Kong-based sourcing company which does business with many members of the Alliance, serves in an advisory capacity.

Bangladesh worker safety alliance was created with an important mission - to protect the workers of Bangladesh. How far has the alliance remained successful in its mission?

During our first year of operation, the Alliance has made tremendous progress toward improving worker safety in Bangladesh's ready-made garment (RMG) factories. In July, we completed inspections in 100 percent of our 587 factories. We recommended 14 factories for full or partial closure, and 50 percent of our factories are now in remediation. The Alliance is the only organization providing compensation for workers displaced due to factory remediation efforts - including 50 percent of wages for up to four months, with the other 50 percent to be provided by the factory owner. We have delivered safety training to more than one million workers and managers and launched an anonymous helpline for workers to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation. We also successfully advocated with the government of Bangladesh to reduce tariffs on imports of fire safety equipment to make them more affordable for factory owners, and led development of the first-ever International Expo on Fire and Building Safety in Dhaka to connect factory owners with international experts and manufacturers of safety equipment. Just this month, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to empower Alliance Members, factories and workers with information, guidance and training resources that will help protect the health and safety of RMG workers.

How important is training among Bangladesh garment industry workers? Do you suppose that appropriate training measures by factories can make a difference?

In December 2013, we conducted the largest-ever survey of more than 3,200 randomly-selected workers from 28 factories to better understand current knowledge and awareness of basic fire safety procedures among factory workers. In May 2014, we conducted a limited sample survey with the same questions in factories that had undergone safety training. We found that the number of workers who were able to correctly identify five fire hazards increased from two percent to 51 percent, and the number of workers who could correctly identify what to do in case of a fire increased from 39 percent to nearly 98 percent. Awareness of correct safety practices is critical to saving lives.

Inspection needs to be regularly done in Bangladesh garment factories. Do you agree? How seriously are these inspections taken in the garment industry of Bangladesh?

Inspections that are conducted regularly and shared transparently are absolutely essential to creating lasting factory safety reform. Now more than ever, there is broad consensus and commitment to high-quality inspections among the government, garment industry, civil society and global brands that source from Bangladesh.
Published on: 30/09/2014

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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